• Italian Police Google Google
  • April 7, 2010 | Author: Donald B. Johnston
  • Law Firm: Aird & Berlis LLP - Toronto Office
  • I can't wait to find out what's going to happen next with the convicted Google executives. Here's a summary of what happened:

    1. A bunch of high school bullies in Italy verbally abuse and beat a child who is autistic.
    2. Other kids at the school film the assault and post it on Google Videos on September 8, 2006.
    3. The video comes to the attention of the police, who complain to Google on November 7, 2006. Google takes the video down within three hours.
    4. Prosecutors, outraged by the fact that the video is accessible for two months and is even on the "most watched" list, charge Google with failing to protect the privacy of the autistic child. The position of the prosecution is that Google is negligent in allowing the video to remain accessible for so long.
    5. The court convicts three Google executives in absentia and sentences each of them to a six-month suspended sentence. They are now considered criminals in Italy, and have criminal records.
    6. The Google executives tell everyone that they're surprised and chagrined.
    7. The American ambassador to Italy says that the conviction is like punishing the mailman for delivering a nasty letter.

    Google, as one would expect, is upset that its executives would be convicted for allowing the video to be shown. Google stated that none of the convicted executives had any idea that the video even existed, nor have any of them ever seen it. Moreover, Google takes the position that the decision of the Italian court is contrary to the "safe harbour" provisions of European Union law, which states that a web hosting company such as Google will be immune from prosecution if it acts promptly to remove illegal content when it learns of it. In this case, Google acted within three hours to take down the video. However, the Italian justice system takes the position that Google ought to have known about it and should have removed it weeks before. Its argument is that since Google collects personal information and uses it to earn advertising income, it is a content provider and not an Internet service provider. Ipso facto, it breached Italian privacy laws.

    There is a good deal of polarization of opinion on this case. Some cite it as a victory for personal information protection and others cite it as a blow to freedom of expression on the Internet. Others say that it turns companies like Google into newspapers -- fully responsible for the veracity and legality of what they publish. Others, suffering from terminal schadenfreude, are just happy to see Google take it on the chin.

    Is it any wonder that Italy has almost the lowest rate of use of the Internet anywhere in Europe? Is it any wonder that Mr. Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, is making lots of money through his newspapers and television stations?